Monday, November 30, 2009

In Which Trai Reviews 'Dexter in the Dark'

The Book: Dexter in the Dark (third in the Dexter Morgan series)

The Author: Jeff Lindsay

How I Found It: Fan of the other two books in the series; see below.

The Review: This book is notorious for taking the Dexter series down a bit of an odd road, something I believe Lindsay tried to remedy in the fourth book, Dexter by Design. The details I will divulge below can be found in most any review on Amazon, but they might spoil the book for you. You've been warned.

All right, so. That being said. Yes, this book does take the series in a bit of an odd direction, and I'm not sure why Lindsay felt it was necessary. I was bugged by the fact that he felt he had to take it in that direction to make it interesting, but I'm a little more tolerant of the plot element than the normal reader, so I took it with a grain of salt. More on this later.

Anyway, we're onto Book Three and our Dex is into some sticky business. He is engaged to Rita, his "disguise", as part of a misunderstanding that occurred in the second book, though he is willing to get married as part of his disguise. He has realized that Cody and Astor, Rita's children, have sociopathic tendencies like his own, and has promised to instruct them in the morality code taught to him by his cop foster father in order to justify his kills. And he finds himself investigating a series of brutal murders on a college campus.

Bodies are found charred and headless on the university campus, with ceramic bull's heads replacing their own. Dexter is baffled, but disturbed when his Dark Passenger, his name for his murderous urges and the side of him that understands other killers, suddenly deserts him. Dexter is disturbed to find himself next to useless without his passenger, and tries desperately to get it back, manage his wedding, and rein in his fiancee's kids before they give in to their own murderous urges.

Now: the plot twist that so annoyed many. (Beyond here be spoilers, matey!)

Okay, so Lindsay chose to explain Dexter's Dark Passenger by claiming it is a fragment of the ancient god Moloch that has lodged itself into Dexter, rather than being part of Dexter himself and his mental construct. No, the Passenger is a supernatural being that urges Dexter to kill for the hell of it.

The supernatural part, I can deal with, sort of. I'm a big fan of The X-Files and I hang out with the Winchester boys on Thursday nights (Supernatural, for anyone not in the know). What I do have issues with is how Lindsay felt the need to even bring in a supernatural explanation for Dex's state.

Apparently working with a plain vanilla sociopath wasn't intriguing enough for Lindsay, which is a little bit sad, considering it was for the readers, judging by the backlash. I didn't hate the supernatural element, but I can't really say I loved it, either. Dexter turned into a spineless wimp without the Passenger, and I wanted my Dex back.

Other criticisms: Good God with the Rita hatred, already. I mean, he loves the kids, but can he at least talk about her in his head without criticizing her? I think my feminist half was angry at how worthless he found her. My feminist half did applaud Deborah, and Astor wanting to be like her was so cute, but still.

Also, the subplot with Astor and Cody was just a little bit odd. I understand that they'd have sociopathic tendencies after their father's abuse, but it seems like only Cody has them and that Astor is just following along (she still clearly shows emotion; Cody does not). I think I like what the TV show allegedly does better than this representation-- cutting the sociopathic subplot and focusing solely on how Dexter cares for the kids.

Overall, I felt the plot was good, but that certain elements could have been cut (the Moloch business), etc. The concept of Dex without his Passenger was interesting, but the idea that the Passenger was a separate entity outside of Dex was... not. I mostly agreed with the online reviews I had read: the Moloch plot was bad news. I wouldn't say skip the book entirely like most of them advise (I'm just a completist freak), but see how far you get reading and judge for yourself.

Not as strong as the previous two books, but recommended for fans and for people who like mysteries and suspense stories.

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